Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Vision for Being Victim-Centered Until We Are Victim-less

By David Voth 

A good heart can make a difference in someone’s life. A good plan guides a good heart to make a difference in thousands of people’s lives. A plan for victim recovery is the precursor to the Promised Land of having no victims.

Put your long range wondering cap on. Look beyond the daily problems and words we use, victim, witness, survivor, or thriver, and imagine what it means to put victims first, at the center of our services and systems. Consider the idea that the master plan for a victim centered, and ultimately victim-less world, is twofold and multi-faceted. It involves the individual and systemic responses.

The Individual Response

There are four core needs of victims: safety, healing, justice, and restitution (financial recovery). Victims’ recovery process has common themes and stages, but also varies for each person – specific to their disability, language, culture, or literacy level. For example, victims benefit when they are assured that they are not alone, are believed, and have their immediate safety issues addressed. Some just want their money back. Personal support is everyone’s role -- family, friends, co-workers, parishioners, Victim Advocates, and neighbors.

Victim Outcomes

For programs responding victims, the four outcomes of safety, healing, justice, and restitution are the reason they exist. That includes providing protection orders, crisis counseling, system guide, and compensation assistance. However, even doubling these services with a new grant is not the goal. Success is when, in the end, the victim is safer, is healing emotionally, is receiving justice, and is able to pay their bills. Logic models with practice-based and research informed outcomes can help victims create an individual and sequential plan for their recovery, even in unprosecuted crimes. Victim-centered outcomes are also victim-driven.

Victim Services

However, outcomes are not the whole picture. A victim-centered response includes assuring Access (are services visible, accessible, acceptable, and available when needed?), Structure (are services provided with best-practice governance, partnerships, tools, staff, and the right services?), and Process (are victims treated ethically, professionally, uniquely, and sensitively?) If victims don’t know about you, you don’t have the needed services, or you do not treat or communicate with them well, then positive victim outcomes are limited to very few victims.

The Systemic Response

Crime is a violation of people and the fabric of society, not just a law. Going upstream to stop victimization involves obstructing undercurrents of sexism, power and control, racism, and privilege, while building dams of prevention and morality, and assuring a victim-centered justice system for those we fail to protect. We must believe and plan for the elimination of crime, just as Mothers Against Drunk Driving is striving to eliminate drunk driving, through technological, moral, and enforcement improvements.

Prevention Issues

One facet to eliminating victimization includes supporting the six levels of the “spectrum of prevention” advocated by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. They are key to changing the societal response to crime. The solution includes 1) strengthening individual knowledge and skills, 2) promoting community education, 3) educating providers, 4) fostering coalitions and networks, 5) changing organizational practices, and 6) influencing policies and legislation. Research also tells us that being a victim once is a higher correlation to future victimization than age, gender, geography, or race. Prevention is key, and includes re-victimization.

Moral Issues

Building societal impediments to crime is like fighting the tide unless millions of consciences are also awakened. Crime is a moral issue. It is not an act of God, but a force of (human) nature. Our moral response to victims must be equal to the other customer of grace, the offender. A victim centered response includes offender culpability (from the outside) and responsibility (from in the inside). Since faith without works is dead, we must practically support victims in a spiritual and neighborly sense, including a seamless safety net for the abused, assaulted, and arsoned, with sanctuary, funding, rights, and services. It takes a spiritual village to name and turn back evil, even as we change hearts one person at a time.

Justice Issues

For years to come there will be victims caught in crime’s raging waters. So, from investigation, protection orders, and trials to offender releases, our laws and protocols must be focused on victim’s need for safety, healing, fairness, and financial wholeness. Every justice system delay and decision must include the balancing question, “How might this affect the victim’s safety and recovery?” For example in the financial recovery area, restitution laws and practices must preserve defendant’s assets before they are destroyed or unavailable for restitution, must comprehensively determine losses, and must prioritize payment to victims. The primary obligation is to the victim, before creditors, courts, or taxing authorities. “Justice for all” assures victim’s right to be informed, present, and heard while always being treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.

Our vision is to plan, research, and put into practice a world where victims’ needs are central at every point their lives might be affected, before and after the crime. We need a victim-centered individual and systemic response. If we can imagine it, someday we can live in it. Then, as we become victim-centered, the remaining systemic mountains can be moved to eliminate crime with new family, spiritual, and cultural values that prioritize true Shalom.

David L. Voth has been director of Crime Victim Services, a comprehensive victim advocacy program in Ohio, since 1985.  He has helped draft and testified on victim rights legislation in Ohio and Congress, and is author of the book, Quality Victim Advocacy: A Field Guide.

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